In Argentina, where I live and grew up, risottos are quite popular due to the Italian heritage in the area. And beyond risottos, many of our dishes have a strong Italian influence, e.g., pasta and gourmet pizza recipes are numerous. Yet it is risotto that I always loved since childhood, as it’s originally made with rice, and I could live on rice. Riso actually means rice in Italian, so risotto would be rice cooked to a creamy consistency.
Quinoa reminds me of a beautiful trip I once did to Peru, mother land of this grain. Actually not a true grain but a protein-rich seed, quinoa is nevertheless used, cooked and eaten as a grain.
My first encounter with this seed was 11 years ago, on my first trip to Peru, ancient land of “Kinwa”, its original name transliterated from Quechua [people of the central Andes and their language]. We were in the north of Argentina, Salta to be precise. My brother and a couple of friends were going to do a two-week trip to the ruins of Machu Pichu, through Bolivia and all the way up into Peru. So my cousin and I asked permission to join which was luckily granted. Through the most uncivilized parts of Bolivia, travelling on the worst public transport ever, with bad smelling chickens all around and even on us, the “Cholas” [women with Indian blood] didn’t respect us at all. Sitting on the floor of an old deteriorated bus, our journey started.
In Bolivia, we would always eat on the streets or at local markets. The streets are usually packed with food stands around stations, even very early in the morning when it’s still dark, you can see warm vapor coming out of the stands, where the common food would be chicken soup with rice. It was only by mid Bolivia where we got off the bus and people were buying at this one stand that had nothing similar to chicken soup. People were walking away with a small double plastic bag and a straw dipped in, sipping some kind of hot juice. I was so amazed by the way they were in line just waiting for the juice and sipping it out of little bags. So I went over to buy one. I then found out it was a typical mountain breakfast, as it can get cold in the mornings. It was nothing but a Kinwa, apple and cinnamon “soup-juice”. To which they said, why take coffee? Kinwa is what you need for an energetic start. So there I was having my first kinwa breakfast, which by the way, tasted delicious.
After some days, having the soup in the mornings or in warmer climates like Cusco in southern Peru, puffed amaranth and Kinwa bars (handmade by locals, with nothing but that and a little unrefined sugar, combined with fresh orange juice blended with the tonic herb maca), made our journey light and easy; no need for anything else even on 3-4 hour morning walks. These really felt like “super” foods, as they are now called.
Quinoa (Kinwa) is a seed used all around Peru and Bolivia. Originally grown in the Andes, it has been the staple food of the ancient Incas, who have walked the mountains and worked the land for centuries.
In Chinese healing arts, we can say that quinoa builds the Kidney Yang energy. The Kidneys are said to keep us alive, as they are our reservoir of essence through life. This essence is what ancient Chinese called Jing. I usually say it’s the like the “fuel storage tank” we bring to earth the day we are born. How we use it and take care of it will determine our health and lifespan. So eating foods that nourish the kidneys and their Jing is always good, as it will help us keep our vitality up, helps with reproduction and longevity and keeps us in balance with the earth and its Yin calming qualities.
The high protein content of quinoa makes it an appropriate food for those on a vegan or highly plant-based diet, or even on the transition to eating fewer and better quality animal products.
Colors in food many times tell us about the nature and effect of those foods in our bodies. It can be according the “Five Element” theory, like green mung beans, string beans and fresh green peas are some the best legumes to nurture and detoxify the liver. This color and organ relationship comes from the fact that liver corresponds to the Wood Element, which is affected by the color green. Or it can be also according to substances in our bodies. In this case, the red-purplish color of beets, reminds us of blood. Likewise beets are very cleansing for the liver and blood, as well as tonifying for the heart. Beets also promote menstruation and boost blood circulation. The effect of beets on these two organs–the Liver and Heart—make them especially appropriate to eat during spring and summer. [Spring corresponds to the Liver, and summer to the Heart, in classical Chinese healing theory.]
So why “Quinoa Beet Risotto”? Well, this dish brings together a little of my history and lifestyle. Here are some pieces of that history: loving risottos since my earliest memories; eating into a healthy plant-based lifestyle; boosting my energy with quality vegetable protein; and taking good care of my heart, a deficiency in my younger years. I’ve experimented with risotto recipes like the one below for some years. Lately, I teach that same recipe at my “5 Element Cooking Courses” in Argentina. It’s so creamy and yet extra fresh–you´ll love it.
Something special I usually do with this recipe is make some extra “beet pâté”—puree cooked beets with a little olive or flax oil, lemon juice and a dash of ground black pepper. You can keep it in the fridge and use it as a dipping sauce, to put over grains, legumes, salads, toast or bread, or anything you can imagine. Enjoy.
Medicina Tradicional China
Dra. en Acupuntura
1 cup of Golden quinoa
2 cooked beets (boiled or steamed)
2 cups cauliflower or broccoli florets
2 medium sized coarsely chopped button or portobello mushrooms
1 handful of chopped parsley
1 large onion finely chopped
1 large carrot finely chopped
2 cloves of garlic
1 tablespoon unpasteurized apple cider vinegar
1 teaspoon coriander seeds
Wash and rinse the quinoa, fill with 3 or more cups of fresh water and soak for at least 8 hours or overnight.
Puree beets with garlic in a food processor or blender.
Heat a casserole and add a quarter cup or so of water; and after a few seconds when bubbling, add the chopped onion, carrot and coriander seeds all with a pinch of salt. Simmer a few minutes by adding a little water to prevent the vegetables from sticking to the pan. This is called “water sauté”.
After some minutes add the quinoa (discard the soaking water or use on plants) and stir energetically until the quinoa becomes shiny and a little more transparent.
Add the apple cider vinegar and about 1½ cups water—to cover an inch above the quinoa. Add the beet puree, a teaspoon of black pepper and a teaspoon of sea salt, stir and bring to boil. Once boiling, cover and reduce heat to a minimum.
Cook, stirring every 10 minutes, until the quinoa is tender on the inside and has an open white ring on the outside. Adjust the water level by adding more, if needed, or removing the cover to let water evaporate if the consistency is too watery. It should be of a thick stew consistency. Just like a regular risotto.
5 minutes before serving add the flowerets (cauliflower or broccoli), and coarsely chopped mushrooms, stir in and cover. Cook for the last five minutes.
When ready, remove from heat, incorporate the tablespoon of chopped parsley and serve with a spoonful of extra beet puree if desired.
Tip If you want to give this dish a Peruvian touch, change parsley for cilantro